Advocacy update

Justice Initiative Supports Renewed Calls by Amazon Workers for COVID-19 Safety Measures

October 23, 2020
Brooke Havlik

Despite an ongoing lawsuit, Amazon has reversed significant changes the company claimed it had made to keep workers and families safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a new filing to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (EDNY), plaintiffs argue that Amazon has resumed prioritizing productivity rates of warehouse workers over basic health and safety measures, like handwashing and cleaning their workstations, in their JFK8 warehouse facility in Staten Island, New York.

Amazon workers and family members of workers at the facility filed a lawsuit in June against the company to force changes to the company’s on-the-job and leave policies, which they argue put them at serious risk of COVID-19 exposure. In an October 14 submission, the plaintiffs further argue that the company has recently notified workers of potential write-ups for poor productivity rates, and has threatened to discipline at least one worker for failing to keep up with reinstated productivity requirements. Just this month, several workers in the JFK8 facility have tested positive for COVID-19. The plaintiffs are urging the Court to deny Amazon’s pending motion to dismiss the case and allow for additional discovery.

In response to the plaintiffs’ filing, Amazon admitted that it is reintroducing the policies, but claims that doing so does not create health and safety risks, a justification it has not previously shared nor verified with workers. After sustained demands by worker advocates and 13 state attorneys general, Amazon recently revealed that almost 20,000 of its workers in the US have contracted COVID-19.

“In order to meet the demand of Prime Day and prepare for its peak season, Amazon is once again putting profits over worker health and safety,” said Matthew Burnett of Open Society Justice Initiative. “At a moment when our country is experiencing yet another devastating wave of COVID-19 infections, its incomprehensible that Amazon would chose to reinstate the very polices it relaxed in order to ensure that workers are not punished for taking precautions to protect themselves, their families, and their communities from infection.”

Open Society Policy Center, an entity that is part of the Open Society network and shares the Justice Initiative's mission, is co-counsel for sixteen members of Congress who filed an amicus brief in support of the workers case and arguing for stronger protections of Amazon’s JFK8 workers.

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